Friday, January 27, 2023

Virginia Beach finance director: $650k spent on oyster work appropriate

Courtesy Lynnhaven River Now "Save Oyster Shells" program.
Courtesy Lynnhaven River Now “Save Oyster Shells” program.

VIRGINIA BEACH — The city manager ordered staff to scrutinize certain city accounts this month after learning the Beach spent more than half-a-million dollars following a nonexistent oyster restoration plan.

City Finance Director Patti Phillips has found and reported the $650,000 exhausted from the account during the past 15 years was spent appropriately.

“There was no misuse of the funds,” City Manager Dave Hansen wrote in a memo to the City Council attached to Phillips’ review. The documents were released to the public Monday.

The money paid for an oyster shell recycling program, educational materials and construction of a 50-acre sanctuary oyster reef, the report said. Almost $57,000 remains in the account.

BACKGROUND: Virginia Beach has been funding nonexistent oyster plan for years, audit says.

City staff are establishing an ongoing reconciliation process for the funds, the documents said, a move to more closely monitor expenditures.

Questions about the oyster restoration fund arose earlier this month when an internal and unscheduled city audit found its coffers were being emptied in pursuit of a plan that did not exist.

Lynnhaven River NOW, the nonprofit that was paid with money from the account to do much of the oyster restoration work, said a plan does exist, even if the city does not have formal guiding documents. Its director said its goal is to build sanctuary reefs and grow oyster populations.

Hansen also wrote in the memo that he expects to see a draft of the “Oyster Heritage Plan” by the month’s end. The draft is likely to undergo scrutiny from the public, he wrote.

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